The only light in the room came from a projector that showed a film about the years of martial law in the Philippines in the 1970s.
It was the first time Cherry Aceron heard about the “mosquito press,” a collective name for alternative publications that reported on the atrocities committed by the dictatorship of former president Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
“We don’t see films like that in school,” said the 17-year-old senior high school student. “I realized martial law was also the dark days in the history of the free press in the country,” she said.
The documentary film “Mosquito Press” is about journalist Jose “Joe” Burgos Jr. and his wife Edita who dared to publish an alternative newspaper during the martial law years.
Filmmaker JL Burgos, son of Joe and Edita, produced and directed the movie that features recollections of people who were part of Burgos’ news team.
“I made the film not to profit, but to tell history so that young people will know about how oppressive and brutal the dictatorship was,” said Burgos.
He admitted, however, that the challenge is “how to bring these kinds of materials” to communities, “especially those who have no access to the internet or to information.”
Early this year, Altermidya, a network of independent media outfits, institutions, and individuals relaunched “AlternaTV,” a mobile cinema program and an alternative venue for film screenings in communities, workplaces, and schools.
Chantal Eco, program head of Altermidya, said the project aims to bring truthful content directly to the people.
“A lot of materials explaining what happened during the martial law era are available now,” she said.
“AlternaTV” is a response to the need to make information about the political, social, and economic conditions of the country available to the grassroots.
“Amid the heavy barrage of false information both online and offline, there is an urgent need for concerted efforts to assert the truth and combat disinformation and historical denialism,” said Eco.
Aside from showing “Mosquito Press” and other documentary films on martial law, “AlternaTV” also conducts screenings for movies such as “Liway” (2018), “The Kingmaker” (2019), and “Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag” (1975).
The mobile cinema program also features short videos explaining the current political and social situations, “which affect the lives of the workers, farmers, students, women, and other sectors.”
Rhea Padilla, national coordinator of Alternative Media Network, said “truth-telling” programs, such as “ALternaTV” is “not exempted from state-sponsored attacks and censorship.”
On September 20, the screening of the film “Liway” by filmmaker Kip Oebanda was stopped by men who identified themselves as members of the Pasay City police intelligence unit.
“Liway” is a true story of a young mother who used story-telling to protect her child from the reality of growing up in prison and the difficult life she endured during martial law.
Oebanda, who directed the film, is the son of Liway.
Also on September 20, eve of the 50th year of the declaration of martial law, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board allegedly called schools and universities organizing film screenings of “Liway” to secure permits.
On Liway’s Facebook page, the filmmaker posted the “permit to exhibit” issued by the MTRCB with a “Parental Guidance rating that is set to expire in October 2023.
“Feel free to use this (permit) when you communicate with them,” said Oebanda in a message to schools, adding that “If you need any other help on our end, message this page and we will get back to you.”
Veteran journalist Inday Espina-Varona, a member of the board of the Alternative Media Network, said rights advocates and defenders of democracy “must learn to make truth our weapon.”
“We must learn to get it, use it, and translate it into action,” she said.
“Reach out to others who may need to understand exactly what happened and relate it to what is happening again because the cycles of corruption repeat and repeat themselves in this country,” Varona said.
She said it is the duty of truth-tellers to fight all forms of lies and protect the public from misinformation and disinformation.
“Truth should be a weapon of those who seek to restore or sustain and expand democracy,” she said. “Nobody is going to bring the truth to (the public) except for those who care for the truth.”